Published in 1986 and weighing in at more than 1,000 pages, It might be Stephen King's best book: It's the kind of unsettling story that digs under your skin, then wriggles through fat and muscle before lodging itself in bone. Alternately horrific and heartwarming, it's a decades-spanning history of Derry, Maine, where an ancient horror lurks under the streets... and where futile denial gnaws away at those lucky enough—or unlucky enough—to survive.
King’s singular ability to tap into this lizard-brain stuff made him a blockbuster author. Because he’s a blockbuster author, a lot of his books get turned into movies. Because his ability is singular, most of those movies are bad.
This It isn’t bad! This It is... fine? Yes. This It is fine.
It’s tempting to grade this It on a curve, because unlike most King adaptations, it gets a lot right. The young cast is phenomenal, particularly Sophia Lillis and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard. Nearly every shot is eerily beautiful to look at. It’s also consistently funny and consistently weird, two things that rarely make the cut in King movies.
But “cut” is the key word: After chopping It’s massive story in half (you’ll have to wait for the sequel for the rest), this streamlined It lacks the unshakeable dread and anxiety that should form its twisted backbone. Instead, Mama director Andy Muschietti delivers what’s basically a haunted-house movie. Sure, existential terror is tough to do in two hours, but here, even the jump scares underwhelm—maybe because this time, creepy clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) is more childlike than threatening, with the script only rarely balancing out his playful menace with actual danger. Meanwhile, Derry—which, for all intents and purposes, is one of It’s major characters—feels more like Anytown, USA than a time-worn, cold-hearted place where fear and loss suffuse each home, each block, each day.
In theory, this It should work: Many of the things that make King’s book so memorable and affecting are here, and all those elements—especially the unforgettable characters—are handled better than in the 1990 miniseries. But for a movie with so much blood, It feels disappointingly bloodless. Maybe the sequel will find the scope and the horror missing from this chapter, but for now, It feels less than the sum of its parts.